3 Common & Costly Mistakes Homeowners Make When Planning a Renovation

Friday, March 8th, 2019 @ 3:11pm
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Blog By: OakWood

Are you planning a major renovation or to build your dream home?

Chances are the top two questions on your mind are: who should I hire and how much will it cost? Getting answers to both questions is often a lot more difficult than you might think.

What’s the problem?


Any Tom, Dick or Jane can claim to be a contractor.

The fact is you really are on your own when it comes to evaluating a contractor’s credentials. There’s no regulatory body that oversees this profession.

That’s why renovation disasters happen more often than you might think. Some even make it into mainstream news. Like this horrific story reported by the Toronto Star.1

This heartbreaking case involved a 76 year old senior who was the victim of renovation fraud. She paid over $300,000 to have her modest home wrecked by an unscrupulous contractor.

The son received an alarming call from one of the contractor’s workers during a raging snow storm. “I really think someone should come down and look in on your mom and see what’s going on down here,” the caller said.

The weather was so bad the son couldn’t drive. He called 911. Paramedics found his mom curled up in bed. The water had been turned off. She was left unconscious and suffering from severe dehydration. “My mom’s house was destroyed,” the son reported. Learn More


Most homeowners start right.

What may surprise you is that in many “horror stories” homeowners started their search for a professional contractor doing all the right things. They got three or more quotes. Some even checked references.

All thought they were choosing a qualified contractor. They were wrong.


Why do smart homeowners get tripped-up?

The nub of the problem is that most simply don’t know what questions to ask when choosing a qualified contractor. They don’t know what they don’t know.

As a result, they make assumptions that lead to five big (and often costly) mistakes when planning a renovation. Here they are:


  1. The lowest price saves me money.
  2. I don’t need any permits.
  3. A short written proposal is best.
  4. A contractor with lots of experience means quality work.
  5. Written references are all I need to check a contractor’s credentials.


Let’s take a quick look at each one and see how it can lead to misery.

Mistake #1: “The lowest price saves me money”

This is a real juggernaut. All too often the lowest price you receive will end up being the most expensive. How can that be?

Because many contractors low-ball their quote to win your business. It’s an ugly fact. Here’s another.

If one contractor is significantly lower, there’s a reason. And the reason is they haven’t included something in their written quote.

Or they’re not quoting on the same quality of merchandise or finishes.

Or they’re using less experienced or unlicensed Trades professionals.

Or they’ve excluded certain tasks such as the removal of debris and permits.

The cost of your renovation can also change dramatically based on your final material selections and finishes.

If your contractor hasn’t led you through a detailed material selection process based on your specific renovation plans, then their proposal probably isn’t worth its’ weight in salt.

Dig deep enough and you’ll discover something is missing.

And if their price is lower because they’re using less experienced – or unqualified – workers, you may well end up paying less in the short run but living with very poor “craftsmanship”.

Or paying a qualified professional later to fix or completely redo the bad workmanship. Here’s a great quote from Red Adair which makes this point:

“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Yes, maybe you saved some money. Was the poor fit and finish or plain ugly final renovation really worth it?

To avoid the lowest price saves me money trap, ask:

  1. Does the contractor specify all products and materials by brand, model, and finish?
  2. Has all work and tasks associated with the project been included as a line item in their quote?


The bottom line is this: if something is not in writing at the time you sign, you can expect surprise “extra costs” to show up later on.

Mistake #2: “I don’t need any permits”

Many homeowners don’t realize that it’s not their contractors responsibility to obtain any permits for their project. Securing appropriate permits for their project is the responsibility of the homeowner.

The fact is the Ontario Build Code requires a permit for the construction of any new building, demolition, addition, or structural alteration to an existing building area over 10 sq. metres, or about 108 sq. feet.

That’s just the start. Any addition or large project will likely require electrical and plumbing permits with inspections by the City at key stages of construction.

Professional contractors will tell you.

A credible and qualified contractor will not only tell you exactly what permits you need, they’ll also take care of securing all necessary permits and schedule inspections with the City to ensure your project will be fully compliant with the Ontario Building Code.

Unfortunately many contractors are either too lazy or they bypass permit applications to save time and money. The homeowner is initially happy because construction begins or ends when they want; and the contractor’s proposal cost less. Big mistake.

Like this lakefront dream home disaster.

Consider this recent nightmare story covered by CBC News2. In this case, a couple bought their dream lakefront home on Lake Scugog, 80 kms north of Toronto in 2015.

In 2017 a tree badly damaged their home. The insurance company brought in an engineering firm to assess the damage and repairs. They discovered that roughly two thirds of the house had been built by the previous owners without proper permits.

The homeowners also learned that their house shouldn’t even “be there” because it was built too close to the water.

Now they’re caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare having to reapply for a permit to rebuild – which may not be approved by the municipality.

To add to their misery, these homeowners are in a scramble to submit all receipts for repair work within two years and by October 2019 for their insurance provider to approve and pay for the work.

Financial penalties for not having appropriate permits can be stiff.

A homeowner can be charged under the Building Code Act and fined up to $50,000 for a first offence and up to $100,000 for future offences.

The City can also force a homeowner to tear down and remove all work that required permits, at their expense. In the case of an insurance claim, the policy maybe null-and-void with the homeowner receiving no compensation for their loss. All because they did not get the necessary permits for their renovation or home project.

Key questions to ask your contractor


  1. Does my project require any permits?
  2. When do we need to apply for permits?
  3. Will you apply for any permits and schedule construction inspections?
  4. How much will permits cost and are these included in your quote?
  5. How long will it take to secure permits and how will this affect my start and/or estimated completion date?


For more information on building permits and the Ontario Building Code, visit:

Mistake #3: “A short quote is all I need”


Here’s a nasty little trade secret: most renovation projects go an average of 27% over budget. How does that happen?


Unfortunately our industry is famous for providing skimpy quotes – often just a few pages for massive renovation projects. This is exactly how many bad contractors and fraudsters are able to price their quotes so much lower: they simply leave details out.


Short skimpy proposals are effective for one reason.

Most homeowners just don’t like long, detailed estimates. They much prefer to get a ‘short and sweet’ quote.

At the heart of this problem is the fact that most of us are just too darn busy to do what’s required to determine if a renovator is actually qualified to take on their job.

So we don’t take the time to make a true ‘apples to apples’ comparison.

Hands down the easiest way for you to make a useful comparison and ensure you are getting good value for your money is to insist on a fully itemized, unconditional quote from each renovator.

What you need to see is every product itemized by brand name AND every service – such as permits, clean-up, and removal – that is OR isn’t included.


How do you protect yourself?

Ask your contractor(s) for a written fixed-price proposal with a fully itemized breakdown and price guarantee for the work specified once your design is complete.

And, ask if they’ll guarantee in writing that the price they’ve quoted is the price you’ll pay unless you request changes in writing.


Article written by: OakWood


Part 2 Coming Soon

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